THE long-talked-about referendum on European Union membership is not the only policy that the Tory sales team, headed by David Cameron and George Osborne, are struggling to sell to one-time party donors who appear to be switching to Ukip in significant numbers.
The same applies to the issue of youth employment – or unemployment – depending on your political perspective. There should be a good story to sell, judging by this statement by the spirited Esther McVey to Parliament: “What we have done...has seen youth unemployment fall for 17 consecutive months. It is now lower than it was at the general election.”
The Employment Minister contrasted this with the 40 per cent in youth unemployment under the last Labour government – the very people now accusing the coalition of not doing enough.
Just why is the Government struggling to get this message across when so many of its big hitters hail from the world of PR, media and political strategy?
One word – complacency. When asked if there were any other initiatives in the pipeline, McVey gave this response: “The Government are not only creating job opportunities. In the last quarter, youth employment was up by 50,000. That shows that our approach is working.”
More statistics, but little substance. It certainly did not impress Huddersfield’s Barry Sheerman, a former education select committee chairman and one of the more independent-minded Labour MPs who demanded “a better relationship among employers and further education colleges, schools and universities”.
He was right to do so. For, while the rise in youth employment is welcome, there is a belief across the North – the key electoral battleground – that the figures are skewed by the Government’s desire to keep teenagers in full-time education longer.
The consequence? Tens of thousands of 16- to 18-year-olds taking “dead-end courses” that do not lead into work or further study according to the respected IPPR think tank.
In short, I am reminded of the Mark Twain adage: “Lies, damned lies and statistics.” But this episode is also a salutary reminder to David Cameron, Esther McVey and others to stop treating the electorate as fools and back up the progress on youth training with policies that are even bolder – and more ambitious.
And then they might – just – earn the right to be taken more seriously on this issue.
BACK to the EU. Even though I subscribe to the view that a vote for Ukip at the next election will increase the likelihood of victory for the pro-EU Ed Miliband, the Tories are going to have to come up with a more convincing argument.
After self-made Yorkshire tycoon Paul Sykes promised to do “whatever it takes” to help Nigel Farage’s party top the polls in next May’s elections to the European parliament, there now exists a very hard core of Conservative-inclined voters who do not trust the current Tory leadership.
Yet, if David Cameron wants to win the 2015 election, he will need to woo back many of those disillusioned voters who are attracted to Ukip’s no-nonsense approach.
In short, the odds of Labour returning to power have dramatically shortened without Miliband, the Doncaster North MP, having to raise his voice in anger.
Is this what the likes of Paul Sykes and Nigel Farage really want? I’d love to know.
CONTINUING the communication theme, when will the NHS ever learn?
After years of badgering, the eye unit at St James’s Hospital in Leeds – where the expertise of its professors and consultants is world class, just for the record – was persuaded to personally allocate follow-up appointments to patients after they had seen a clinician.
The benefits were two-fold: it gave patients some flexibility on timing and it spared the NHS some postage costs. On one memorable occasion, I received three letters by post detailing the same appointment.
Now, an unidentified hospital manager has decreed that staff return to the old system. No explanation has been forthcoming. An exasperated receptionist said: “I hope you put that in your newspaper.”
I have just done so, but will anyone at Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust take notice?
I’ll keep you posted – no pun intended – but all I can assume is that this supposedly cash-strapped Trust has money to burn.
SO the NHS is safe in David Cameron’s hands this winter.
First he gave £500m in August to prop up A&E services. Now another £150m is in the pipeline.
It does not inspire confidence. Nor does the prevarication on the source of this emergency funding.
SIX weeks ago, I bemoaned Helen Grant’s appointment as Sports Minister as a missed opportunity because I believed this needed to be a Cabinet-level post so the legacy from the 2012 Olympics was not squandered.
Surprise, surprise! A House of Lords report now reveals that the legacy is being frittered away by poor decision-making. They say one Minister should take charge of the health, education, leisure and economic spin-offs.
I agree. It should be the Sports Minister. But how can this be so when Grant, a Hull University graduate, has so many other policy responsibilities – including tourism?
She’s been so busy that she’s not even had time to book a meeting with Welcome to Yorkshire, the country’s most successful tourism organisation, to discuss next summer’s Tour de France Grand Départ, and the opportunities that this will provide Great Britain plc.
WHEN you next see a mollycoddled Premier League footballer feigning injury or describing a twinge as tragedy, just think of Yorkshire jump jockey Danny Cook.
You may not have heard of him – he’s one of the unsung heroes of National Hunt racing – but he epitomises the very best of sporting bravery.
When a horse lashed out and kicked him on the leg at the start of the race, he did not wince. He dismounted, allowed the feeling to return to his limb and then remounted before finishing a creditable sixth.
Only when he returned to the weighing room with a slight hobble, and took off his boot, did it dawn on him that his leg had been broken just below the same knee that he shattered in a fall at Wetherby on Boxing Day in 2011.
He then drove himself from Newcastle to York Hospital where he was put in plaster. He expects to be back riding in January.
When I spoke to him on Monday, there were no complaints.
Perhaps someone should recount this story to football’s serial under-performers.
AS we’re not going to win football’s World Cup, I hope we send the under-21 side to Brazil to gain experience – they can do no worse than Roy Hodgson’s tired-old has-beens.
That is not a criticism of Hodgson. Far from it. He doesn’t have the players at his disposal and his effectiveness, as England manager, should be judged on whether he can put the right youth coaching structures in place so we have a better chance of winning such competitions in 20 years time.
That is the reality.